Exploring Ontology

It's all about the deep questions.

Random thoughts 2: Qualia and Moral Value

Recently it occurred to me that qualia, or the raw subjective phenomenal feel of things, has close conceptual ties to moral value. It seems to me that, intuitively, any agent that lacks qualia would also necessarily lack moral value. The converse of that statement also seems to hold. Any agent that lacks any moral value, must lack qualia. This is easier to see through its contrapositive, any agent that has qualia has some moral value. Could the statement “An agent has moral value if and only if it has qualia” be true? Certainly it seems to depend on the kind of qualia present. If an agent could experience no pain/joy but could experience colors, tastes, etc. would he have moral value? Is such an agent even possible? Nevertheless, if it were true, then it would have some interesting consequences. For example, the problem of other minds would morph into some sort of problem of moral nihilism as well. Furthermore, ethical theories that focus on the increase of happiness or the decrease of harm do not mean any sort of functional account of happiness or pain, rather they focus exclusively on the phenomenal aspects of those feelings. Lastly, a pretty well known consequence would be the ethical dilemma of machines. Their inclusion or exclusion into the moral sphere (perhaps sometime in the not-so-distant future) would hang crucially on the factual question as to whether they possess qualia or not. This seems to spell a lot of trouble seeing how any science of consciousness is still well into its infancy.


One response to “Random thoughts 2: Qualia and Moral Value

  1. e.e. October 9, 2011 at 1:50 pm

    how would this idea pertain to the mentally disturbed? studies of psychopaths have shown little to no sense of pain or joy, rather faked emotions on their behalves. at the same time, they often have little to no conscience or sense of morals. if it were possible to be both completely immoral and have no sense of emotional feelings, would this truly upset anything at all?

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